Asset declaration law angers boffins
Anew regulation issued by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) that requires university council members to declare their assets and liabilities has drawn mixed reactions. The regulation which was issued under a new anti-corruption law also covers judges and other state officials, their spouses and children, including those who are not yet of age, to declare their assets and debts to the NACC. It was published in the Royal Gazette on Nov 1 and will take effect on Dec 2.
While many, especially people in academic circles, welcome the new rule, the university council members made no effort to hide their annoyance. They claim the requirement will be an excessive burden, especially regarding paper work. They demanded the NACC revise the regulation accordingly, or there will be a protest: resignations en masse.
Council chairman Suchatvee Suwansawat said it agreed in principle during a meeting on Nov 8 that the new asset regulation should be to applied to universities’ rectors and vice-rectors, but not council members whose work is academic in nature.
He said the members insisted they are exempted because they hold no executive power and have no authority in procurement.
According to Mr Suchatvee, who is also rector of King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL), some university council members have already tendered their resignations, which could affect the running of university affairs.
“Even though the new rule is aimed at promoting good governance, it will also add too much of a burden on those who are required to declare their assets. They will also have to declare the assets of their spouses and children,” Mr Suchatvee said in an attempt to justify the demand.
It’s the same situation for the Council of Rajabhat and Rajamangkala University. Previously, there were warnings about adverse effects if the new regulation becomes effective.
They said there would be a power vacuum in universities if council members quit their positions. Their resignations would affect quorums of meetings, which would affect the councils’ decision-making process.
It’s well known that people from the private sector sit on university councils and they are reluctant to declare their assets.
Chalermchai Boonyaleepan, a member of the coup-installed National Legislative Assembly and ex-rector of Srinakharinwirot University, voiced disagreement with the new rule. He said some “decent and competent” people may find the measure a turn-off and decide not to join the council.
The tumult has prompted the NACC to offer a compromise. On Friday, NACC deputy secretary-general Niwatchai Kasemmongkol said the agency is gathering input from all concerned parties and may postpone the enforcement of the new regulation.
The NACC has promised to consider the matter thoroughly.
In a bid to downplay the impact, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Kreangam, who was assigned by the prime minister to take care of the issue, said the resignations had nothing to do with the protest.
He cited the case of Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the constitutional drafting committee and president of three university councils who decided to quit his university job because his term is up, and cannot be extended.
If he waits until the regulation takes effect, Mr Meechai will have to submit an asset declaration to the NACC, and he “simply does not want to”, the deputy prime minister said.
“Several presidents and council members are in the same situation,” Mr Wissanu said.
Yet the deputy prime minister appeared to sympathise with those who are frustrated with the new rule, and suggested an easy way out of the impasse: the NACC should simplify its asset declaration form and process.
More importantly, there are complications about the new rule when it is applied to senior members of the Sangha Council who also sit on the council of Mahamakut and Maha Chulalongkornrajavidyalaya Buddhist universities. This is because by tradition it may be deemed as inappropriate to make such a requirement to senior monks.
Mr Wissanu is right in pointing out the need for a compromise, especially in making the asset declaration process more simple, but at the same time those who threaten to resign over the new rule should know such a decision would cast them in a bad light.
Such a threat if anything is an overreaction and shows a lack of maturity and professionalism. In particular, the claims about additional paper works in the assets declaration process is unconvincing and ridiculous.
Some university council members have already tendered their resignations.